Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Bring Keith Olbermann back to ESPN

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
updated 7:45 AM EST, Tue March 5, 2013
Howard Kurtz says Keith Olbermann should be welcomed back to ESPN.
Howard Kurtz says Keith Olbermann should be welcomed back to ESPN.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Howard Kurtz: There's talk that Keith Olbermann wants to return to ESPN
  • He says Olbermann has been controversial at several leading media outlets
  • Kurtz says Olbermann has great talent and deserves another shot at sports
  • Kurtz: Working with Olbermann may not always be easy, but he can be worth the trouble

Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.

(CNN) -- Keith Olbermann -- formerly of MSNBC, formerly of Current TV, formerly of Fox, formerly of ESPN -- wants back in the game.

More to the point, he wants to return to his sports roots by reuniting with ESPN.

Now it would be easy to torpedo that idea by noting that Olbermann has burned bridges everywhere he has worked and could inflame things back at ESPN.

Howard Kurtz
Howard Kurtz

But I won't. Instead, I'm going to lead a chant: Let's Go Keith!!

It would be great fun to see him holding forth again on sporting matters. Is the guy supposed to stay sidelined for the rest of his life, just because he's got a bit of a temper? Don't the fans of America deserve better?

Watch: Did George Stephanopoulos lay a glove on Dennis Rodman?

The New York Times reports that Olbermann recently had dinner with ESPN's president, John Skipper, who says they had a fine time. But they weren't just shooting the breeze: "Clearly he was looking to see if there was an entry point to come back," Skipper said. Olbermann, in turn, praised Skipper's "vision and charm."

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



So to put it in betting terms, what are the odds?

"There was no real appropriate place for Keith to come back, nor did I feel like I was prepared to bring him back," Skipper told the Times.

Wrong answer.

ESPN is in the business of covering athletic competition, right? What could be more spellbinding than waiting to see whether Olbermann declares some jock the "worst person in the world" or, even better, grabs a baseball bat in some confrontation with the bosses?

Watch: Do Mitt and Ann Romney get why he lost the election?

I'm being facetious, of course. But I miss the guy, even though there have been times when he has thrown brushback pitches at me. But I'm going to rise above that, for the greater good of television.

The thing about ubertalented people is that they're often difficult to manage. Olbermann is a great broadcaster, but sometimes he lets his anger get the best of him. He makes life very difficult for his bosses. The question, as always, is whether he's worth it.

2012: Olbermann's legal war
2012: Olbermann ousted, again

Olbermann worked for ESPN from 1992 to 1997, so he can claim, you know, it's a new century and all that. He and Dan Patrick were a very popular team as co-hosts of "SportsCenter."

But then Olbermann left, prompting an ESPN executive to offer this classic quote: "He didn't burn bridges here. He napalmed them."

Watch: John Boehner doubles down on street talk about Senate's backside

Abandoning sports for politics, Olbermann hosted "The Big Show" on MSNBC, riding the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky wave to prominence until he quit, saying he was "ashamed" of what he was doing.

Next up was Fox Sports, where Olbermann worked for three years. "I fired him. He's crazy," owner Rupert Murdoch later said. Olbermann has always blamed Rupe for his departure.

After a brief stint at CNN, where he had also worked early in his career, Olbermann headed back to MSNBC and almost single-handedly revived the channel.

Tapping into a surge of sentiment against President George W. Bush during the Iraq war, Olbermann's "Countdown" redefined MSNBC as cable's leading liberal outlet and boosted its ratings for eight years. But clashes with management grew. He was briefly suspended over making political donations, and the two sides severed their relationship.

Olbermann resurfaced with a $10-million-a-year deal at Current TV, boasting about his independence from corporate media as Al Gore gave him the title of chief news officer. But the marriage quickly soured, with Olbermann complaining about the cheesiness of the facilities ("a daily logistical nightmare" that "more closely resembles cable access," according to an e-mail from his rep) and management complaining about temper tantrums, a mug-throwing incident and days off. After less than a year, the two sides wound up suing each other last spring.

Now you might say this is a cautionary note for a future employer, and you might be right. But after a year of unemployment and tweeting mainly about sports, perhaps Olbermann has mellowed.

Watch: Should Andrew Sullivan have suggested Pope Benedict XVI is gay?

To be sure, ESPN has certainly tolerated its share of loudmouths, from the analyst who was let go for calling Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III a "cornball brother" to the commentator who uttered the n-word on the air.

Olbermann's problems tend to unfold off the field, not in front of the camera, though he's occasionally apologized for going too far.

And it couldn't hurt for ESPN to jazz things up.

Skipper isn't exactly raising expectations, saying: "There are not that many successful examples of people who have come back, in part because it's like water filling a vacuum. When somebody leaves, somebody else fills their place."

Sure, play it safe. Or throw the long pass and see what happens.

Remember: Watching Keith Olbermann is a great spectator sport.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT